“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” ~Erma Bombeck
This used to be us. The family. Phone calls and feeding the pets. Arguing over whose turn it was to stack the dishwasher. Corny Saturday night movies. Hugs and kisses and arguments all in one. Days playing lego, weeding and finally catching the mouse in the pantry. We were normal. We had that common thread, the one which bound us all together. Mother to daughter. Father to son. Brother to sister. Husband to wife. We were just as we should be. But threads can be cut. They can be broken. They can fray. And just like that, you realise that you have nothing in common at all.
There is a saying that you don’t know what happens behind closed doors. The perfect couple, cocktail parties and golf trips, can hide broken vases and eggplant bruises behind manicured lawns and a Mercedes Benz. The bubbly shop assistant with gleaming teeth can hide needle marks and infected sores behind neatly planted lavender bushes and a chirping door bell. The kind gentlemen, crisp linen suits and crafted walking stick, can hide the most evil of fingers behind his prized oak and volunteer work. But this isn’t always the truth. Sometimes you can tell what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes there are signs, whispers. Sometimes everyone knows exactly what happens when the world goes home.
Sometimes you get a child like me.
We never had a need to hide anything, be it behind doors, fences or careers. Sure we had our common family faults. Not enough time, pimples, autistic rages, the common cold. But we were happy. Bound together by that common thread. Everything was ok. It always would be. Bad things always happen to other people. We had baby brothers issues. We had experienced our bad luck. Of course it wouldn’t happen again.
But you see. Disease doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you are rich, poor, white or black. It doesn’t care if you have already been to hell and back. You can always cry more tears. Pierce more silent nights with more screams. There is always more hurt to be had. Jodi Pilcoult wrote
“Having a child who is sick is a full time occupation. Sure we still enjoy the usual day to day happinesses of family life. Big house. Great Kids. But beneath the exterior there are cracks. Resentments that threaten the very foundation of our lives. But somehow the very things that tore us apart would bring us together in ways we could never have imagined”.
The reality is that when your own body betrays you, everyone knows. You cannot run. And you cannot hide. The postman smiles, sadly, knowingly, as he hands your Dad another letter from a Children’s Hospital. The neighbours wave, and nod, pretending they haven’t heard the screaming in the night. Acquaintances bump into your Mum at the grocery store, and ask how you are. But the truth is, they don’t want to know. The truth is too ugly. And everyone pretends its ok.
It’s easy to pretend, to hide, on the outside, when the world is watching. You smile and nod and fake bravado. Everyone knows you are pretending. But no one says a word. While spoken words are of the weather and recent rain, the silent conversations scream the truth.
I know you are not ok.
I know you know.
And when the front door closes, and the flywire bangs shut, the pretending doesn’t stop. A family is like a construction site. You pretend its all going to plan. That everything is on time, while everyone knows you won’t be moved in by April. And the workers pretend too.
There is Dad, the ageing planner. He plans every floor board, every beam. And when the plans fall apart, he makes coffee, and sits there quietly while his world falls down around him. You pretend you don’t see the tears streaming down his face as he mows the lawns.
There is Jake, the Chippie. Sure, he spends more time chatting up the hot young things next door, rather than working. But his jokes and dirty innuendos keep the workplace sane. He never shares his pain. You pretend you don’t hear him scream for his poor sister.
There is Ben, the worksite dog. He isn’t particularly productive. He hides when everything goes wrong. But he gives you all the love in the world, asking only for a cuddle and a pat. He is the worksites glue, pieces everyone together. You pretend you don’t hear the thuds of plaster and skin.
There is Mum, the site manager. She makes frantic phonecalls, organises paperwork, makes demands. She is all consumed with the workplace, unable to stop. She will never let you go. She is the reason that the worksite still stands. You pretend you don’t hear her wails at night for her baby girl.
Then there is you. You are the work site. You continue to go wrong, to break. There is always more cracked plaster, leaking pipes, rotted timber. Yet they will not condemn you. They continue to fix you, no matter the cost.
And that’s the thing. Behind closed doors things aren’t the same as they were. The blip of machines, rattle of tablets and screams have replaced summer barbeques and brushing the dog. But love is blind. Their hearts are blind to Disease. It has changed our lives, our dreams, our fears. But our common thread is stronger. Our common thread cannot be hidden behind closed doors.
Because it shines too bright.